May 28, 2008
By Susan Benson,
CNHM Director of Education
This past week has been enjoyable, watching the indigo buntings feeding at the bird feeders. The male, a brilliant blue while the female is a duller brown, migrates at night, using the stars as guidance. Scientists believe they gain knowledge of the night sky from their experience as a young bird observing the stars. They’re so good at navigation, in fact, that experienced adults have been known to return to their previous breeding sites even after being held captive and released away from their normal wintering sites.
Indigo buntings prefer brush along woods, roads or in open deciduous forests and old fields. They eat small insects, spiders, seeds and berries, and glean their insects off branches. When nesting, they create a open cup nest in shrubs close to the ground, and held in pace with spider webs. Their songs are a sequence of notes that are similar between males when they are close by; if the males are separated by more distance, they will have different songs.
Another favorite bird I listen for every spring is an ovenbird. Ovenbirds are rarely seen, but often heard. Their loud song, “teacher, teacher, teacher,” rings throughout the forests of our area. They are perhaps more well-known to birders because the neighboring males sing together in the spring; one male begins singing and others will join in after, sometimes for as many as forty different songs. The ovenbird is an interior forest warbler species that nests on the ground of mixed deciduous or coniferous forests. Ovenbirds get their name from their nest; they use Pennsylvania sedges that curl over, making a dome that resembles a Dutch oven. They focus on uplands or sloped area habitat, leaving the steep slopes and lower elevated areas for other warblers. Ovenbirds feed on insects off leaf litter on the forest floor.
Large forest areas are important to the Ovenbird, as they can require 30 to 250 acres to sustain populations. The Ovenbird is considered to be one of the most fragmentation-sensitive birds in the northeast, possible because the bird is a ground nester, making it more vulnerable to predators. Fragmented forests allow more predators into the forest, negatively affecting ground nesters. Studies estimate that only half of adult ovenbirds survive each year. This knowledge makes listening to the sound of ovenbirds even more special. Enjoy the songs of our forest bird species on your next trip outdoors.
Nature Watch is brought to you by the Cable Natural History Museum. For 40 years, the Museum has served as a guide and mentor to generations of visitors and residents interested in learning to better appreciate and care for the extraordinary natural resources of the region. The Museum invites you to visit its facility in Cable at 43570 Kavanaugh Street or on the web at www.cablemuseum.org to learn more about exhibits and programs.